Omarama shepherd Katey Hill (22) and her 6-year-old
quarterhorse Boots. Photo by Ruth Grundy
Boots'n'all - they've done it.
Omarama shepherd Katey Hill (22) and her 6-year-old
quarterhorse Boots are this year's New Zealand Rodeo Cowboys'
Association rookie barrel-racing champions.
After little more than one season on Boots, Katey has not
only taken her first New Zealand title but is well on the way
to making her rodeo dreams come true.
The New Zealand Rodeo Cowboys' Association holds its national
finals in Wanaka today and tomorrow.
However, the rookie and junior champions are decided before
the finals on points earned throughout the season.
Because the pair quickly built an impressive lead, Miss Hill
decided to end Boot's competition season on a "slow note",
winding down on the southern run of competitions and dropping
from a high of seventh in the national standings to finish
"It's hard when he's going hot to wind a horse down, but he's
been barrel-racing since July. I was thrilled I could do that
"I took a step back since it was his first competition season
. . .I want him [to be able to compete] for the next 20
Katey borrowed a mount to compete in her last two events,
Waikato and Urenui, finishing sixth and fifth respectively.
She said she won respect for her approach from judges and
experienced rodeo competitors.
She plans to be in Wanaka to watch the finals action and
accept her trophy and prizes, but when she eventually
attempts the open championship she wants to do it in her own
way and on her own horse.
It is that streak of independence and sheer grit which
underpins her determination to make something of herself in
the world of rodeo.
"I like working so much . . . I work until I crash."
Katey's day job is shepherd at Quailburn, with partner and
Quailburn stock manager Sam Forsyth.
Her parents are dairy farmers Gaye and Bo Hill and she grew
up in in Culverden and Oxford, North Canterbury, with three
brothers and an older "tomboy" sister - playing rugby, riding
motocross bikes, helping on the farm and driving tractors by
"It was pretty hands-on."
She would tag along behind her twin brothers on their
pig-hunting trips - much to their annoyance, she said.
It was her early passion. She was the "crazy pig hunter of
However, pig hunting has been put on hold for a while while
she puts all her efforts into rodeo.
Boarding school was a struggle as Katey battled with the
symptoms of Crohn's disease so, moving on, she completed a
diploma in agribusiness management by correspondence.
She also made sure she gained her shearing certificate
before, urged on by her father, she left for two and a-half
years of work experience in Australia.
Her father asked her: did she want to work on a cattle
station or in a mine in Australia? She replied she was not
"going to sit on a dump truck all day".
Katey's first stop was Liveringa Station in Western
Australia, where she continued to study beef cattle farming
through the Kimberley Training Institute, and where she met
tutor Wayne Stanley, a prominent rodeo sportsman.
Work on the sprawling cattle station was tough, with not many
days off - and those days were "rodeo days".
She said she did not see the point in sitting around just
watching and drinking all day so she asked if she could
She "had a go at everything".
Barrel racing was the least fun, steer-riding the most fun,
Mr Stanley was initially dubious about her commitment and
fairly blunt in his appraisal.
"What the hell are you doing here?" he demanded to know.
He soon realised she knew her stock, but still put her to the
"On my first rodeo he put me on his rope horse. I got my
first breakaway rope off that horse . . .came second in my
very first barrel race."
Mr Stanley sent Katey to Sophie Downs Station, at Halls
Creek, so she could further hone her rodeo skills.
It did not take long to prove a point - she won the Kununarra
Rodeo 2011 rookie of the year title and, on a whim, entered
and won all-round cowgirl for 2012.
"All I wanted to do was rodeo and I don't come from a rodeo
Initially, her parents thought she was "just going through a
phase" and would get over it. Now they are behind her all the
way and could not be more proud, she said.
Katey says she would like take up calf-roping - "there's just
you, your horse and the calf".
While she had enjoyed steer-riding, she had no real ambition
to compete, and women were not allowed to compete in the
event in New Zealand. And first things first - she wants to
spend more time working and training her young horses.
Her self-contained nature has seen her teach herself most of
what she needs to know to follow her dream - from shoeing
through to horse training - earning respect from the rodeo
"family" for doing it all herself.
Katey spent the Omarama winter taming and training Boots.
"Everyone has seen him blow - they know he's a time-bomb."
He was happy seeing out the summer at work on the station as
a stock horse - "that's what makes them".
Her dogs, too, were enjoying the extra attention now she was
back at home.
She was gradually building up her dog team after starting
with young dogs, which "is the hard way to do it".
"Sam and I have got a really good balance."
"He helps me with my young dogs and I help with the young
Mr Forsyth is from a leading dog-trialling family in Ward,
- by Ruth Grundy